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The end of World War I (1918) brought about post-war depression, widespread poverty and privation of resources. Thousands of young men lost their lives during the war leaving their families destitute and to make matters worse, the veterans returning home after demobilisation brought with them one of the worst viral epidemics of the time. It was called the “Spanish Flu” and by October of 1918, it had killed between 50 – 100 million people worldwide. It is estimated that more than half a million people died in South Africa and in some cases, entire communities were wiped out in a matter of months.

By the end of 1918, the “Great Influenza Pandemic” had reached such proportions that there were more funerals on one day than would normally take place in a month. Rising prices were the order of the day and with financial problems facing everyone, people were unable to pay for a funeral. The average cost of an ordinary funeral was £25 (R50). No credit was extended, and amid their poverty, people were forced to pay cash rather than face a humiliating pauper’s funeral.

The answer to this problem was to establish a benevolent fund or burial society that would allow people to make small but regular contributions to the fund. And so, during 1918, a Society known as AFRIKAANSE VERBOND was established. The Society quickly grew in numbers and funds and yielded money when members died but lacked the infrastructure and capacity to conduct funerals.

During 1919, a business known as the ‘BLOEMFONTEIN BEGRAFNISFONDS” was established. The business operated like a burial society and had the capacity to conduct funerals as well. It seemed like the complete solution to the aforementioned problem but less than three years after its inception, the company was on the brink of bankruptcy and was taken over in 1921 by the AFRIKAANSE VERBOND. The newly established organization was named “AFRIKAANSE VERBOND BEGRAFNIS ONDERNEMING BEPERK” or AVBOB.

Mr H.H. van Rooijen, a lecturer at a local college at the time, was appointed the chairman of the board and on 1 December 1922, he was appointed as first full-time manager at AVBOB. The organization only had 400 members at inception but by 1934, it had established 80 branches all over the country. Nine new branches were opened in that year. By June 1938, it had more than 30 000 members. In 1948 it became the first organization to sell funeral policies to all racial groups and in that way fulfilled its mission which was to render affordable funeral services to all.

In 1949, steps were taken to convert AVBOB to a Mutual Society and on 16 March 1951, the Private Act which led to the establishment of AVBOB Mutual Assurance Society, was promulgated and approved.

Today, 98 years after its inception, AVBOB continues to fulfil the objective which was core to its establishment in 1918. The Society has more than 1.5 million policyholders and in excess of 4 million lives insured. AVBOB offers the entire spectrum of funeral services via an extensive national infrastructure consisting of more than 160 funeral agencies, 95 insurance offices and a manufacturing plant and employs approximately 3 900 people.

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